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After Over 9,000 Short Film Submissions, Sundance Whittles Them Down to Only 50

Sundance Film Festival

Over 9,000 short films were submitted to the Sundance Institute for consideration for this year’s virtual festival. KPCW’s Sean Higgins has more on the screening process and what virtual festival goers can expect this year. 


Not only does Sundance Senior Shorts Programmer Mike Plante and his team get to watch thousands of short films each year in preparation for the annual film festival, they also get paid to do it.


Sundance considers a ‘short’ to be a film under 50 minutes long, but the majority are under 20 minutes. Plante says this year, the festival received over 9,800 submissions from all over the world. Ultimately, only 50 made the final cut.


“You know, out of that 10,000, there are usually about 500 that are amazing and we could play and we’ve got to whittle that down, so we find what a program could be,” says Plante. “What kind of short could be great for the first thing you see? What short is a little bit longer, maybe a bigger, heavier story or a bigger production? That might be the last short in a program and then we see what can play from there in between.”


The screening and selection process takes six months and Plante and the other short programmers watch each and every film submitted.


Plante says the majority of the submissions are from the United States -- the film hubs of New York and Los Angeles in particular -- but he and his team try to showcase filmmakers from across the globe.


This year, shorts from the Philippines, Vietnam, and Mongolia will be featured.  


“They come from really all over, literally the world,” he says. “We get a lot of stuff from middle America, we get a lot of stuff from smaller cities, which is great, we really like to find new talent and new voices that are making films. We definitely like to balance it out with places that aren’t known as traditional film hubs.”


When it comes to figuring out which shorts get put into each program, Plante says a good rule of thumb is to not have too many films of the same genre grouped together. That way, comedies seem more funny and dramas more impactful if they are not competing with a similar short. 


This year’s shorts run the gambit from comedies about spending the holidays with your in-laws, animations about rescue dogs, to heavy-hitting dramas tackling issues like race and sexual harassment in the workplace.


The 2021 Sundance Film Festival opens this Thursday, January 28th and runs until February 3rd. Details on how to participate in the virtual festival can be found here.

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